Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ballet Slipper-stream

I read a really interesting article last night. The author is kind of an expert on a particular holiday tradition: The Nutcracker ballet. Having seen 28 productions in 12 states, Alastair MacAuley is well acquainted with the variations that occur between the original 1816 German story “Nussknacker und Mausek├Ânig” (“Nutcracker and Mouse King”) which in 1844 was adapted into a ballet by Alexandre Dumas, and subsequent adaptations.

I did a presentation a couple years ago at Maine Reading Round Up (a state conference for librarians) on literary slipstream; slipstream is any attempt at reconsidering the historical record or the 'original' text. That sounds a bit complicated, but what it's really referring to is: revisions, re-versions, and re-tellings in the form of adaptations, prequels and sequels, fan fiction, parodies and other  multimedia projects. I focused on books and stories that have been slipstreamed, but I'm ashamed to say that I'd never thought much about slipstream in the form of dance. Slipper-stream? 

But that's exactly what MacAley is discussing in his article. I knew that the young heroine's name can traditionally be Clara or Marie, but there are other nuances that come to light when you spend time watching different productions. Aside from the Sugarplum Fairy's song, one of the most recognizable movements (referring to the song definition now, but I wanted to use that word as a play on the differing choreography!) is the candy canes. But in some productions, this is a Russian dance, with much different costumes.

From what I can figure out, even when the dancers are decked out in red and white striped costumes, the Candy Canes are still supposed to represent Russia, just as the chocolate represents Spain, the coffee represents Arabia, and the tea represents China. The variation is more about the costumes and the choreography: instead of dancing with hoops (many candy cane dances feature them), traditional Russian squat-and-kick moves (Cossack Dance). 

Personally, I prefer the candy canes. I've never quite understood how a bunch of big, gymnastic Russian men fit in among the other residents of the Land of Sweets. It sounds a bit like a Soviet version of Candyland. I guess there'd be no way to win that game because everyone would just be really cold, sitting around Snowflake Lake, and eating the exact same portions of licorice, which of course would be frozen and thus tasteless.   . .

Lastly, the endings vary. As MacAuley writes,  traditional “Nutcrackers” tend to choose between two endings. One which the young heroine realizes she’s been dreaming and is safe back at home . Here, it’s the young heroine  who, played by an adult delivers the climactic Sugar Plum numbers with the young ex-Nutcracker. Because she was a good girl, her reward is romantic love, on a heroic scale; so “Nutcracker” becomes yet another ballet love story. He goes on to discuss parodies such as  Nutcracker Rouge or The Butt-cracker Suite (set in a trailer park). The Butt-cracker suite looks pretty hilarious and I'd definitely pay to see it, but I think I'll skip the burlesque re-imagining.

Like many others, the music and performance of The Nutcracker is one of my beloved Christmas traditions. It has been ever since I was 13, and I played one of the toy soldiers on stage in the Buffalo City Ballet's production. I already loved performing, but performing during the holiday season made the whole experience even more magical. I was lucky enough to experience it again two year later, when I auditioned again and was cast as a mouse. That role was much more fun to dance in: the choreography was more free-form rather than regimented, each mouse had her own style, and since we were wearing big mouse heads, if we messed up, no one in the audience could tell which dancer was in which mouse costume. It's always more fun on stage if one is cannot concerned with the possibility of humiliation.

Since I was spared the humiliation on stage in front of hundreds of people, I'll make good here, (on my blog which almost no one reads) and display the photos from these experiences. 

                                     toy soldier, 1995                mouse (sans head), 1997

Who needs a Nutcracker burlesque when you can be a big, gray shapeless blob, hoping to God you don't lose your head? (A fitting description of me any day!)

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